Understanding Why Some Turn to Behavioral Addiction

Addiction is not limited to drug or alcohol dependence. Many people struggle with behavioral addictions that can include addictions to relationships, romance, or love, dangerous exercise routines, eating disorders, excessive gaming, shopping, or even addictions to their job. These kinds of addictive behaviors are often rooted in childhood trauma, and are used to avoid feeling the pain of early attachment trauma. These same addictions can increase during times of stress, or during romantic relationship problems.

Nevertheless, these patterns do not have to affect your happiness. Support is available from an experienced psychologist and behavior therapist who is clinically certified in trauma and addictions.

In this article, we will seek to understand behavior addiction and its traits and types in some detail.

Understanding Behavioral Addiction

When someone is overly dependent on a certain pattern of behaviors, they are giving the person a momentary payout, usually by way of distracting them from their pain. Behavioral addictions are usually done as a way of trauma blocking behaviors. These patterns typically include love or relationship addictions, gaming, shopping, eating disorders, sex, or workaholism.

Here, the person is seeking gratification or reward from a particular activity. And this seeking is uncontrollable, compulsive, and obsessive. Often, the pursuit pleasure or ‘reward’ leads to self-sabotaging behavior.

Based on this, doctors of psychology have categorized compulsive or addictive behaviors broadly into two main categories: substance abuse and behavioral addiction. As the name suggests, substance abuse is excessive use or over-dependence on substances such as drugs and alcohol, etc.

Whereas, when an individual feels an uncontrollable urge to engage compulsively in certain types of activities, such as sexual activities, gambling, online gaming, or unhealthy and excessive usage of the internet, they can be termed as behaviorally addicted.

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Types of Behavioral Addictions

Any excessive engagement in an activity can become a compulsion where a person becomes addicted to the highs and lows of turning to the addictive behavior as a way of avoiding deeper pain. However, most commonly found behaviorally addictive activities are gaming, including video games and pornographic games, addiction to the internet, social media addiction, shopping addiction, workaholism, or relationship or love addiction.

These activities may reward them with a sensational high or may temporarily release them from feelings of depression, regret, anxiety, or shame. This is why behavioral addictions are based on intermittent reinforcement. However, the more someone indulges in this activity, the level of satisfaction diminishes, making them more at risk for higher rates of the addictive behavior to get the same level of satisfaction form it.

This repetition in process or activity becomes addictive, and soon the individual does that out of compulsion which seems uncontrollable on their part.

As such, the range and scope of behavioral addiction are broad. Activities like excessive eating, media consumption, pathological working, love or relationship addiction, and overindulgence in sports and physical exercises come under behavioral addictions.

Behavioral addiction can be as detrimental as substance abuse. Treating a behavioral addiction might require patience and courage to pursue the path along with the support and guidance of a formally trained doctor of psychology and certified trauma and addiction therapist.

Understanding Behavioral Addiction

Individuals with behavioral addictions often have certain common characteristics that lead them to get addicted to a certain behavior, activity, or process. These patterns of engaging in certain behaviors persists, past the point of its negative consequences.

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These behaviors may also lead a person to take on such activities as a means of coping with emotional trauma or stress, making them emotionally dependent on such activities. Let us understand what these traits or characteristics can be.


People who are spontaneous in decision-making often work on impulses. They can be viewed as fun to be around since they can connect with others on an emotional level pretty well.

However, if the impulses are irrational, poorly thought out, or used as a means to avoid painful emotions or experiences, they can lead to impulsivity in taking a particular action.

Thrill Seeking

Often people who derive pleasure from thrills get addicted to such activities, and their tendency to indulge in those activities gradually becomes more intense and frequent over time.

Activities such as excessive gaming or even indulging in certain kinds of dangerous sports could be the result of behavioral addiction. Oftentimes the addiction for indulging in such activities could be so great that people run the risk of damaging their relationships, and their self-worth just to derive pleasure from the thrill.

Love or Relationship Addiction

Similar to thrill seekers, when someone seeks sensual pleasure on an unhealthy level, they become behaviorally addicted to such activities. Sensation seekers may often find themselves unconsciously getting indulged in excessive sexual activities, or a pattern of always needing a romantic relationship to avoid being alone, which in time can lead to patterns seen in love addiction.

Many of these patterns usually operate unconsciously as a way of escaping fears of abandonment or fears of rejection or being alone. Many feel deep guilt or shame for this pattern, as well as for the cycle of toxic relationships that keeps replaying, yet they may be scared to get help for risking feeling judged or experiencing more shame. While this can be a difficult pattern to break, support is available from a trained relationship therapist with expertise in behavioral addictions.

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Blame Shifting

When a person cannot take responsibility for any event, circumstance, or situation, they tend to shift the blame onto someone else. Excessive shifting of blame is rooted in denial, projection, and rationalization, all of which are defense mechanisms used to push away the pain that they experience.

Thus, on the surface, this pattern can be denied, and may seem justified to them. The problem occurs when this behavioral pattern repeats itself too often, and there is an increase in the level, intensity, or rate of them engaging in the addictive behavior.

Support and Healing

Behavioral addiction treatment often requires a comprehensive approach including behavior programs designed to track successes while reducing behavioral excesses, meditation, and emotional regulation skills.  A behavior therapist certified in trauma and addiction can help identify the underlying trauma that often sparks these types of addictions.

If you know someone suffering from compulsive behaviors or process addictions, help and support them with the guidance of a trained professional.

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